“A bullet has not yet been molded that will kill me,” were the famous last words of Confederate General Martin Green. There were lots of almost fictional and unbelievable things that happened during the American Civil War, like when the wounds of the soldiers glowed blue in the dark. One of them was when a Confederate general claimed to be unkillable a few seconds before being killed. This was what happened on his terribly timed famous last words.
Martin Edwin Green was born in Fauquier Country, Virginia. Twenty-one years later, he and his young bride moved to Lewis County, Missouri, where he and his brothers opened a sawmill. There, he became the Judge of the Lewis County Court and a prominent democrat, while his brother became a Senator in Missouri’s Democratic Party, Senator James Green.
Green was a leading secessionist in Northeast Missouri when the American Civil War broke out in 1861. After a riot on July 4 at Canton, Missouri, Judge Green summoned and sent the pro-Southern citizens to a training camp on the Fabius River under the protection of the Missouri State Guard. They formed these citizens into a cavalry regiment and assigned Joseph Porter as the lieutenant colonel.
In an attempt to scatter David Moore’s Union Home Guard regiment, Green went on the offensive in Northeast Missouri with his larger force that included some artillery and was able to strike Moore in the Athens area. His recruits, however, retreated and were repelled from the field. He also accompanied his regiment in a successful attack on Lexington in September 1861, at the defeat at Elkhorn Tavern in March of 1862, and then at Iuka and Corinth, where their side also lost.
On July 21, 1862, Green was commissioned as a Confederate States brigadier and was tasked to command a brigade of Bowen’s Division during the Siege of Vicksburg.
Famous Last Words
The Siege of Vicksburg saw Union Major General Ulysses Grant attack the heavily fortified city. As the only remaining major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, this battle was crucial for the South. On June 27, 1863, General Green decided to inspect his defenses in Vicksburg in the midst of firing between both sides. He was warned to keep his head down, as Union sharpshooters had been particularly active that day.
The Confederate general’s response to the warning that would become his famous last words was, “A bullet has not yet been molded that will kill me.” In what seemed like a plot of a movie, he dropped dead almost immediately after saying these words when a Union sharpshooter shot him in the head.
This was not a unique incident, much to our surprise. The Union had its own version of the incident when General John Sedgwick, one of the Union’s highest-ranking officers, also died in a similar manner during the American Civil War.
During the Battle of Antietam, Sedgwick’s division was sent on a hastily prepared assault by Major General Edwin Summer. He was shot three times but survived. After a few months, and he had fully recovered, he found himself in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, where he was directing artillery placements. The Confederate sharpshooters just around 900 meters away began showering them with bullets, and his men quickly dived for cover. Sedgwick was angered by this and said,
“What! what! men, dodging this way for single bullets! What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”
His men, having been under fire by the Confederates knew they were not bulletproof, so, of course, they continued to take cover. “All right, my man; go to your place,” he said. Moments later, General Sedgwick took a minie ball right to the head as well.
As a well-respected general, Grant could not believe that Sedgwick had died, and his reaction upon hearing the news was, “Is he really dead?”